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June 30, 2009
I learned this English song called “Sukiyaki” on my trip to West Malaysia with other NPCC cadets in 1979.  We had lots of sing along and was given a song book to help us do just that.  I remembered the two songs I liked best (几呼唱得都快滚瓜烂熟) were “A Time for Us” and “Sukiyaki”(click on link to hear song on YouTube).I thought the melody for Sukiyaki was very soft and slow and I thought maybe one day, I’ll have a chance to listen and understand the Japanese version.  But throughout my school years from 1979 to the time I graduated from NUS, I never had a chance to even learn the “gana” or “kana” in Japanese (try your kana knowledge by clicking here).  Besides, every time I mentioned that, my family (especially my grandmother) would remind me how cruel the Japanese were during World War II.  For a moment I thought I’d never have a chance to learn this popular foreign language.  That was in the 80s.

In mid 1990s,during my doctoral thesis writing, my thesis advisor (He’s English) decided to move to Japan.  I had to do my thesis entirely via long distance discussion because over 80% of the time, he was in Tokyo.  That’s when I took one semester of Japanese intermediate class.  I hunt for the song sukiyaki and to my horror, the lyrics was very difficult and there was no mention of the word “sukiyaki”.

The word “suki” (好き) in Japanese means “like”.  So “Dai suki” menas “I love you”.  And the word “yaki”(焼き) menas “fried” as in “nabeyaki udon“,” dorayaki”(the fried thing eaten by Doraemon, see Jason’s blog page), “yaki soba” (fried buckwheat noodles), “tori yaki”, etc.  But sukiyaki (in the Western world) turns out to be food cooked in water and nothing is fried.  It looks like Shabu-shabu and it’s so famous (mainly because of the song), Thailand simply shorten it to “suki”.  So for example, MK Suki and Coca Suki filled up Bangkok with hundreds of its “suki” restaurants.  See picture of a pot of sukiyaki below:

Back to the song.  The Japanse version is called “Ue o muite Aruko” literally translated to “up, look, walk”.  And “yaki” & “suki” are not mentioned in this 1963 song by Kyu Sakamoto (click here for a Youtube video).  The lyrics was incomprehensible (and I mean the translated English version by A Taste of Honey), but by a clever twist, the title  “Sukiyaki” made it possible for Westerners to remember and it topped the US chart that year.  And because of the success of the original version, another version by Blue Diamond is easier to remember and is full of “sukiyaki”s. This lyrics was not the ones I memorized.  The one I sang in Sec 3 with a bunch of other Sec 3 kids from other schools has lots of “sukiyaki”‘s in it.  I was disappointed for a short while but I’ve decided to study Sakamoto’s lyrics in Japanese and learn its meaning.  In doing so, I also discovered that Kyu was also the original singer to the song “Shina no Yoru” (China Nights) which was also sung by 李香蘭 (山口淑子–Yoshiko Yamaguchi 1940). That was the version I had in my car audio CD!  I was able to associate to it right away!  (李香蘭was also mention in my previous blog — click here –when I probed deeply into the origin of the song 夜来香).


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One Comment
  1. Vicky permalink

    How is it that the songs you listen to are so 60\’s? Are we really born in the same year? I love to eat sukiyaki, having been introduced in the early 80\’s when I visited Yoahan where we had first eaten.

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